Egypt faces Algeria in tense World Cup qualifier

Top sheikh calls for calm as fan violence anticipated


The stakes are high and the atmosphere is tense as rivals Egypt and Algeria prepare to go head to head in tonight's long-awaited African World Cup qualifying soccer match, which prompted a prominent Egyptian preacher to call for calm as violence between fans was anticipated.

As over-confident fans flooded the streets of the capital city Algiers in pre-match victory celebrations, the city of Blida was turned into a virtual military base as more than 5,000 security officers were lined in the streets and in the Mustafa Tchaker Stadium, where the match would be played.

The city's historic hotels were fully booked and restaurants packed as fans adorned the streets of Blida with Algerian flags and dressed in the team's green jerseys.

Tickets for the crucial match sold for 4,000 dinars ($55) on the black market and more than 18,000 tickets were reportedly sold in few hours. A total of 40,000 tickets have been sold.

The authorities reserved a special place for Egyptian fans near the honorary podium based on instructions from Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Boutefika who called on his nation to "welcome the guests of Algeria."

In the past, matches between Egypt and Algeria have turned violent as rival fans scuffle and antagonize players. In the 1980s Egypt's team doctor lost an eye after he was beaten up by Algerian players in Algeria.

To avoid any breach in security this year's match will bar minors from attending and only those with tickets will be allowed in the stadium and its surrounding grounds.

More important than soccer

Meanwhile, prominent scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi warned fans against getting too wound up about the match and said there are more important causes Muslims should fight for than soccerl.

"There is no point getting all worked up about a piece of inflated leather," he told the Algerian newspaper al-Heddaf. "This game should instead strengthen ties between Egypt and Algeria."

The paper's editor-in-chief said he chose to speak to Qaradawi because the sheikh was popular in the region and fans of al-Heddaf, Algeria's biggest sports paper, would listen to him.

"Sheikh Qaradawi is very popular amongst Algerians," Ismail Merazka told Al Arabiya. "He is also Egyptian. This makes him the best to deliver the message."

Merazka added that the aftermath of previous games between Egypt and Algeria have been quite violent and that is why precautions had to be taken in order to avoid similar clashes.

"The game between Egypt and Algeria is an Arab cause that necessitated the intervention of someone like Qaradawi."

Algerian daily newspaper al-Chorouk al-Youmi interviewed the delegation accompanying the Egyptian team and the paper's editor said both Algerian and Egyptian journalists would coordinate on the coverage of the game.

"The media is responsible for the direction events will take before and after the game," Mohamed Yaakoubi told Al Arabiya. "The coverage has to be balanced so that fans don't engage in any violent clashes."

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)